Kiff Gallagher, Director of Music National Service
by Bill Clifford
In writing the article on Musician Corps (see feature “What’s Up With Music Corps?”), I encountered deliberately vague information on the Internet, a certain reticence on the part of MC participants, and rumors that Christopher “Kiff” Gallagher, director of the private nonprofit that is managing MC, is hard to reach. Elizabeth Whitford, executive director of ArtsCorps Seattle (the group that administers MC’s local pilot project), opened up remarkably after learning that I was writing for the Honk community. Her offer to connect me with Gallagher still suggested that the interview would be held on MC’s terms—that is, brief at best.
So I ordered my questions carefully, figuring to fill in as many blanks as I could in a short interview. When Gallagher called promptly at the appointed hour, my first question was, “How long do we have?” I was pleased that he offered 20 minutes. When we hung up I was shocked to see that an hour had passed.
Launching Musician Corps
During that hour, Gallagher had plenty to say about Musician Corps (see feature in this issue). Here are the highlights: In January 2009, MNS got a $500,000 grant from the Hewlett Foundation (Hewlett Packard) to run a pilot program in San Francisco. The SF program has hired six Musician Corps Fellows and established 10 work sites. Training for a full-scale program in New Orleans began this summer; MC Fellows will serve in low-income schools from September 2009 until June 2010. This program is funded by the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation (Ruth’s Chris Steak House, http://www.fertel.com) and backed by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation.
Another pilot program has been launched in Seattle, presumably with backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Microsoft) and to be managed by ArtsCorps Seattle (http://www.artscorps.org/news/musiciancorps.html). Pearl Jam and the Mayor’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs are also involved.
Further private funding has come from the Academy of Country Music Charitable Fund and the Catherine Chao Foundation. The Hewlett Foundation money gave Gallagher enough momentum to hire some staff and find office space. It’s not clear what the pilot program in San Francisco will do but Gallagher says it got the ball rolling. MNS will hold its national training camp in San Francisco in August, to be followed by site-based training in the partner cities. Although the Serve America Act provides for support of ongoing, nonschool community music projects initial emphasis is on low-income school programs. So how did Kiff Gallagher get all this going?
Getting in Position
In 1991, then 21-year old Kiff Gallagher went to work in Sen. Joe Biden’s office. He soon found himself on the Clinton transition team as a go-fer. While in the White House, he did some minor work on AmeriCorps legislation–Clinton’s domestic version of the Peace Corps. From there Gallagher promoted to running a domestic program for the Corporation for National Service. You can hear Gallagher describe his experience on this podcast: http://tinyurl.com/loq7wt.
Moving on from DC, Gallagher became lead spokesman for Odwalla, Inc. (the juice company) and later was appointed president of Social Venture Network, where he made progressive corporate contacts and remains an active equity investor.
In 2002 Gallagher turned to music, recording a couple of indie pop albums and founding PeaceLabs Music, Inc., promoting music as a civic and social service strategy. With a grant from the Fleishhacker Foundation, he developed his idea of a musical Peace Corps: http://peacelabs.org/vision.
Taking this idea to the Obama campaign last year, he got the Arts Corps and Music Corps ideas inserted in the campaign platform, a plank of which called for tripling the size of AmeriCorps. Since Obama’s inauguration, Congress has passed the bill that could provide federal support for Musicians Corps, an amendment to the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (originally the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education/GIVE Act).
Moving MC Forward
Musician Corps is proceeding as a privately funded program, establishing a track record. Will Music National Service/Music Corp be first in line for Serve America funds in October?
Gallagher has the right idea at the right time, and he has worked many years to be in the right place. He has developed important connections. He has assembled an impressive group of music people. So what’s next?
Gallagher thinks Musician Corps and Honk Fest are natural allies, so maybe there are positive ways we can mesh with the program. To see if you might be MC Fellow material you could review the Chicago application http://tinyurl.com/lfmb9t. Chicago is done recruiting and San Francisco has made its hires (see who got the job http://tinyurl.com/pt3c8m). Seattle has a closed process and its not clear from the website or interviews if the New Orleans project will launch this year. Dallas is very quiet. But next spring, who knows? It could be full employment for community musicians.
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